Caregiving During Flu Season

flu-season-aheadWhen flu season rolls around, it’s never pleasant for even the healthiest of families.  When caring for someone who may have a compromised immune system, it’s even tougher.  Complications from the flu can lead to hospitalization and occasionally cause death.  The flu can lead to other illnesses including pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections.  Flu can worsen a person’s chronic health problems as well.  If your loved one is living with congestive heart failure, for example, the flu can make their symptoms more severe.  The CDC recommends that almost everyone in the US, including both you and your loved one, get a flu vaccine as the first line of defense.
What to do if you think it’s the flu
Flu symptoms are similar to those of a cold, but more prolonged and intense. If a caregiver suspects that they or their loved one has the flu, they should immediately call a physician before the illness progresses, to see whether antiviral treatment is appropriate.  These drugs work better for treatment the sooner they are started. Medical attention must be sought immediately if you see symptoms including shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the abdomen or chest, abrupt dizziness or continual vomiting. Dehydration can also be another symptom. 


Visitors, caregivers and family members should wash their hands thoroughly and frequently, especially before preparing food or touching each other.  Keep family members with the flu away from others as much as possible and isolate them to their own “sick” room and bathroom if your home can accommodate it.   Isolation is a good way to contain the flu virus and keep it from spreading. Caregivers can designate one room for the sick loved one(s) and the other rooms for the rest of the family. You should clean the sick room once a day. 
Caring for a person with the flu who is also living with memory impairment has special difficulties. Your loved one may not remember to use a tissue, wash their hands or use the designated bathroom. Extra patience and vigilance will be needed during this time to keep them content and hydrated and limit exposure to the virus to others.   
Supplies to keep on hand
Keep supplies handy in the sick room. Tissues, a separate trash can with a lid, facemasks, hand sanitizer, drinks, thermometer, humidifier and other towels/washcloths are good examples of things to keep separate from the main household supply.  
Disposable gloves can be worn as protection, especially when doing personal care. Again, caregivers should wash their hands after removing the gloves. One or two people should be assigned to care for the person who is ill, and wear a mask while helping them, to avoid spreading the flu. Professionals recommend using hot water for washing and the hot setting for the dryer when doing laundry during this time. 
If all goes according to plan, the flu can pass in a week or two. With an elderly loved one, the hope is that proper care and attention to symptoms will prevent complications from arising. The flu is never any fun, and caregivers can take heart that “this too shall pass.” 


Today’s Caregiver magazine (, launched in 1995, is the first national magazine for all family and professional caregivers. Each issue includes articles on vital caregiving issues and caregiving resources. Cover interviews include Debbie Reynolds, Dixie Carter, Valerie Harper, Della Reese and Clay Aiken, among many others. ©, Inc.